weeks months ago, The Whisky Cellar, a quite new independent bottler, announced its second outturn, with brand new single casks for whisky amateurs to enjoy. As for the first one, back in September 2020, Keith Bonnington and Steve Rush organized a Tweet Tasting to allow a handful of lucky people to taste a selection of drams taken from this second outturn. I absolutely love the first Whisky Cellar Tweet Tasting with some stunning drams, so boy was I excited for this one…
I might be a bit late…
Procastri… pracostrina…. procrastination. Got it. First try. What does that word with many letters mean? It’s the act of unnecessarily postponing decisions or actions. Like me writing this article. Had I had a deadline to write it, like a week top after the Tweet Tasting, I’d have probably postponed it until right before the deadline, despite maybe having intended to work on it earlier (I did). I was procrastinating. And with no deadline, no commitment to publish something by some date, well… Here we are, almost four months later!
Procrastination (in fact I perfectly know how to write it correctly without even cheating, I can’t be bad at everything!) generally occurs as the result of a person’s inability to self-regulate their behaviour. This is why this is associated with the concept of akrasia, which is a state of mind where someone acts against their better judgment, due to a lack of sufficient self-control. And if you take a look at how many bottles of whisky I have behind me, yep, definitive lack of self-control. Though I buy more than I drink, so I guess there’s still hope. Anyway, accordingly, procrastination is generally unintentional and irrational. That means people procrastinate even when they realize that doing so is bad for them, and even when they want to stop. Spot on, I wanted to publish an article almost every day on this blog and err… not quite.
Psychologically speaking, the main driving force behind procrastination is the prioritisation of short-term mood repair and emotion regulation over long-term achievement and wellbeing. Like now I need to publish this article and between this part of the sentence and the end of it, several days and many drams happened*. What does that mean? Well that when procrastinators are averse to a task for some reason, they postpone it, in order to avoir suffering from negative emotions in the present. They do this despite the fact this delay will prevent them from achieving their goals or that it could induce negative emotions in the long-term, which is usual with people feeling guilty about their procrastination.
The way to overcome procrastination is to set clear goals for oneself. This is important as doing so will help the procrastinator figure out what exactly he/she’s trying to accomplish, and because he’ll be more likely to pursue goals that are clearly defined than those that are vague or abstract. They can also create a plan of action once they’ve set their goals and assessed the nature of their procrastination, and anti-procrastination techniques are well documented. But I can’t be bothered writing them down here. After all, I certainly want to get some immediate gratification (pouring myself a dram… but for this article! To write tasting notes! I swear it’s not because I’m too lazy!)
Anyway, unlike me, Keith Bonnington is not procrastinating, as he’s already working on his third series of releases while I’m still writing about part of his second series. So let’s get to it!
Once again, Keith and Steve pulled out all the stops, with six samples from The Whisky Cellar’s second outturn, another beautiful pen made by MiaWoodCrafts, a notebook, and as if it wasn’t enough, a bonus dram was included!
On the menu: The Whisky Cellar’s own Blended Malt, called “House Malt”, for starters. Afterwards, a 7 years old Balmenach, a 30 years old Jura, a 22 year-old Speyside (the Speyside Distillery, not an undisclosed Speyside distillery), followed by a 13-year-old Benrinnes, an 8-year-old Caol Ila. And to conclude? The Scalasaig blended malt, coming from another Scotch Whisky project from Keith Bonnington, Colonsay Beverages. Drooling already? Let’s crack on.
100/57.1 + 100/50 = headache.
Before introducing the first dram of that evening, let’s talk about proof. The term proof appeared in Britain somewhere during the 17th century when people started to want to prove its strength. Why? Never short of great ideas to collect taxes, the Excisemen – the people of Customs & Excise, in order to ensure government taxation, imposed duty depending on the strength of the alcohol, and thus needed proof of the spirit’s strength.
At the time, the way proof was tested was quite dramatic. A small amount of gunpowder would be soaked with the spirit to be tested. If it burned steadily, the alcohol would be considered “100 proof”. If it burned more strongly (or even exploded), it would be considered ‘over-proof’ while if it failed to ignite, it would be defined as ‘under-proof’. A more scientific and safer test was then invented in 1740 with the adoption of the Clark hydrometer by Customs & Excise, itself being replaced in 1816 by another hydrometer made by Bartholomew Sikes.
The alcohol strength was established by calculating the specific gravity of the spirit to be tested within a solution of alcohol and water. A 100 proof spirit was determined to be 12/13th of the specific gravity of the same volume of distilled water at the same temperature of 51°F. This method of calculation defined a 100 proof spirit as having 57.1% of alcohol by volume, or ‘abv’ as it’s now commonly referred to.
However, in mainland Europe, distillers used a different method devised by French scientist Joseph-Louis Gay Lussac back in 1824. This method calculated strength as being a percentage of alcohol by volume in a solution of distilled water at a temperature of 20°C. This method became the standard way of measuring alcohol strength and on January 1980 the UK abandoned Sikes’ method for the Gay-Lussac one and legally ratified its usage as the new standard. But the switch between Sikes’ and Gay-Lussac systems can generate some confusion. Prior to 1980, bottles of Scotch whisky would display the old ‘proof’ calculation on their label (100 proof, 80 proof and 70 proof being respectively 57.1% abv, 45.8% or 40% abv). To go from good ol’ UK proof to the percentage of alcohol by volume, you divide the proof by 1.75 and you get the abv.
But you wouldn’t think it would still be that easy, right? Of course not. That’s why United States use yet another method of calculating proof. Since 1848, they measure the alcohol content of a spirit by a percentage of the alcohol by volume, thus there, a 100 proof spirit contains… 50% alcohol by volume. If you divide the US proof by 2, you get the percentage of alcohol by volume.
“House Malt” 100% Proof
Though this one is presented as a blended malt, we are in fact in front of a tea-spooned single malt from an undisclosed Lowland distillery. So officially not a single malt anymore, but honestly, we don’t see a single theoretical teaspoon of another whisky change things other than the impossibility to call that a single malt anymore. Anyway. This whisky was distilled in March 2011, matured for 10 years in a first fill American oak Oloroso sherry butt #9001771, and before bottling it in March 2021, The Whisky Cellar reduced it to 100° British Proof, or 57.1% abv in decimal language. You can still buy a bottle for just shy of £50 on Master of Malt. It doesn’t seem to be available in Europe and that makes me very sad.
1: this cask number smells Signatory Vintage stock, don’t you think?
Warm first contact, and the high abv is barely noticeable. You’re in a Gentlemen’s club here, with old leather armchair and cigar box. While the warm notes provided by the oloroso sherry but are well present, some fresher orchard fruits and red berries can be found, as well a slight citrusy note in the background. Strawberry jam and spicy orange marmalade give a kick to it. After a bit more time, dunnage warehouse, dusty library shelves, orange prickly sweets, and tangy smells almost like Arlequin sweets. And an espresso. Reduction brings the orchard fruits forward and green notes of menthol and eucalyptus.
Neat, warm arrival but not overly aggressive at first. Pepper hits after a few seconds, yep, it’s 100 UK proof. Leather again, figs, raisins, dark cherries and prunes. 65% chocolate dipped in your espresso. Ginger bread. Creamy mouthfeel by the way. Some wood char but just a little bit, not too much. With a few drops of water, Jaffa cakes and candied ginger.
Wood, pepper and chocolate, medium length. Hints of smoke.
This is good, really good. While it’s just 10-years-old, there’s a good complexity in my opinion, with lots of flavours and smells to pick out, and additional ones to unlock with a few drops of water. And adding water allows you to have a bit more to drink from the same original 700ml! Now what Lowland distillery may this “blended malt” come? I don’t know. Could it be a teaspooned Bladnoch? But your guess is as good as mine. I want a bottle of this.
Balmenach 2013 7yo
Balmenach is a Speyside distillery founded in 1824 and owned since 1997 by Inver House. Thanks to this Tweet Tasting, it’s actually my first time tasting some! You don’t come across their whisky easily, as they were just for a few years part of the Flora & Fauna range with a 12yo back when they were owned by Unified Distillers, and nowadays you can try their single malt only thanks to independent bottlers, like today with this Whisky Cellar release.
Talking about this release, it was distilled in May 2013 and filled into a refill hogshead where it matured for 5 years, before it was moved to Tawny Port quarter cask #186B in April 2019 for an almost two-year long finish, before giving 97 bottles in March 2021 at 54.5% abv (try to convert that to British proof in your head if you want to have ‘fun’). Yep, small outturn since it was a quarter cask, and they unfortunately sold out very quickly. Well Hard To Find Wines have two bottles left, but who’d want to buy them at more than 4 times the RRP (£59,95 initially)! ‘From the collection of a private seller’… Come the f… on… I guess they didn’t want to explicitly write ‘flipper’? Anyway, time to pour this and have a tasty tasty moment with it!
Muscat with a pink hue.
Warm spices, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, smells like Christmas. Cheese cake with redcurrant coulis. Red and dark cherry tart. Without the stones. Lime zest. There are still some faint malty notes on the background. Tobacco leaves, After Eight chocolates and aniseed.
Immediately drying and woody arrival. There’s a slight bitterness, maybe from the port cask wood itself. Strong dark fruitiness, burnt brown sugar, cold charcoal, black liquorice sweets (the Haribo rolls ones). Prickly with spices too, pepper, crystallized ginger slices from your sushi order. The wood is quite present.
Drying, with raisins and wood.
It starts very well with a great nose. Once again, lots of things to pick out, winter and summer notes at the same time, I guess you can nose this all year long! On the palate, the wood from the port quarter cask is a bit too present, as you may expect for a quarter cask, giving lots of wood contact. I can’t measure the influence of the port QC on the naked Balmenach as I never had any other Balmenach yet. But in the end, especially if you’re into wood, a well enjoyable dram.
Jura 1990 30yo
Okay, here, complete change of location, style, age range and price range! The present day Jura distillery was rebuilt in the 1960s to produce a light unpeated whisky, far from the quite often very peaty whiskies produced by the ‘neighbours’ from Islay, though some of Jura’s current official bottling are lightly to heavily peated. We reviewed only one Jura on this humble blog and we weren’t convinced at all. I own a bottle of their heavily peated and… I’m not a huge fan of it. However, I know some old independent Jura have been seen as really great, so let’s stay optimistic about this one!
This Jura was distilled in October 1990 and 163 bottles were drawn from an American Oak hogshead (number #9005601 for those like me with a whisky Google Sheet) 30 years later in February 2021, at an approachable 46.4% abv. Obviously here we’re talking natural colour and no chill-filtration to keep the juice as natural as possible. At £250, it also sold out quite quickly.
Hot briny sea air, the summer is here. Gentle peat (Highlands peat, not Islay peat), and a very dirty funky side. This is getting quite meaty, earthy and… damp? Are we at the farm? Dusty old leather arm chair, dusty oak shelves, seaweed drying on the beach under the sun. A slice of multi-grain bread just out of the toaster, with salted butter and apricot jam.
Soft arrival, thinner than the two previous drams. There’s a bitter spiciness, probably from the time spent in quercus alba. Ripe tropical fruits, banana, mango, roasted pineapple. By chance the slightly off notes from the nose are not present on the palate. There’s an underlying sweetness too, like icing sugar. Charry oak spices are quite present but I’m not annoyed with them, the wood lets you know it’s been here for 30 years, but still leaves room for the spirit. Some earthy notes and dying smoke embers. There’s also a zesty bitterness of grapefruit.
Shorter than expected, lemon, wood spices, grapefruit and dust.
While that’s definitely the best Jura I ever had (but I didn’t have many, and they were “core range” Juras), I’m not sure I’d choose this bottle over the House Malt for example. There’s a lot going on both on the nose and on the palate, but unfortunately a few off notes, maybe the Jura funk from the 90s, prevent this whisky to attain great heights. I won’t refuse a dram mind you, we’re far from Jura Seven Wood (thank the whisky Gods!), but I expected maybe a bit more. That or I’m just a spoiled forty-something brat. Maybe both.
Speyside 1998 22 years old
Well you won’t have to wonder with region it’s from with this one. However, you could wonder from which distillery this whisky is from. Well it’s from The Speyside Distillery, not a (secret) Speyside distillery. Yeah, with a name like this it’s always a pain, but that’s the way it is. Speyside Distillery sits near the hamlet of Drumguish near Kingussie, less than an hour drive south of Inverness, in… the Speyside region, you guessed it. It is a quite young distillery, founded only back in 1990.
The spirit was distilled in October 1998 and was laid down in the American oak hogshead #1283 before being taken out of its slumber 22 years later in March 2021. Let’s hope it was not too deep a slumber, it would be a shame if the cask didn’t sprinkled its magic on the liquid. Though the outturn was quite small with only 103 bottles, you can still find one (and I mean, one, just on) on MoM for £145 at the time of writing. Oh, the usual info? 52.8% abv, nc/ncf. Now let’s get to nosy nosy tasty tasty.
Sweet notes of sugar dusted ripe orchard fruits: apricot, peaches, plum… Honey too. Green apples, lemon and is that faint notes of yeast and fresh dough? Herbal and floral notes. This is very fruity. Liquorice and freshly laundered linen clothes.
Waxy mouthfeel. Quite citrusy, fresh with eucalyptus and menthol, pear, burnt caramel. The mouthfeel becomes drying after a moment. Pineapple and tropical fruits. Lots of stone fruits, honey, and passion fruits.
Passion fruits linger on for quite a long moment with a pinch of pepper and some oak notes.
While my tasting notes may seem a bit poor compared to the previous whiskies, this. is. delicious. This is a fruit bomb, it’s fresh on the note, extremely tasty on the palate, this was so good that I couldn’t stop myself from drinking it without taking enough time to analyse everything. Definitely adding one in my Wishlist for a future order.
Benrinnes 2007 13yo
We now move to Benrinnes, a Diageo owned distillery established in 1826 and located right at the foot of… Benrinnes, a 840m high peak located near Aberlour. We don’t see much of its single malt either on the official bottling side, with just a 15yo in the Flora & Fauna range. If you want to taste more of Benrinnes, you’ll have to rely on independent bottlers, but by chance they seem to be easily able to get casks to release, as we can see here with this release from The Whisky Cellar.
This particular whisky was distilled in September 2007 and stayed for 11 years in refill American oak before being finished for 2 years in a first-fill ex-bourbon barrel #310411 from Chicago-based Koval Distillery. It was then bottled in February 2021, giving an outturn of 149 bottles clocking 56.7% abv, and as always non-chill filtered and with natural colour. Bottles are still available at MoM for just under £80 at the time of writing.
Neat: Lots of vanilla at first, a little varnish, honey and hints of cedar wood. There’s also a soapy smell, more hotel mini soaps than Savon de Marseille. Maybe some shoe polish and orchard fruits too, but quite shy. A few drops of water amplify at first the alcohol hit but for just a couple seconds. After that, the soap gets a wee bit stronger, and adds chalk.
Arrival on vanilla, thick and spicy, but also with some kind of chalky mouthfeel after a few seconds. Quite surprising, but I like that. The taste is really reminding of bourbon, with a good corn mashbill. This is spicy, quite a lot of pepper, but nutmeg too. A bit of wood but not too much, honey, butterscotch and a buttery shortbread. And maybe Jaffa cakes? Water reduction strengthens the peppery prickly notes, and insists on the dark chocolate from the Jaffa cakes more than on the orange jam.
Medium length, with honey and oak spices.
I don’t have much experience with Benrinnes, but I must say it’s a good surprise. Between the American oak and the 1st fill Koval cask finish, we definitely get those Bourbon notes you can expect, but there are also unexpected notes, like soap and chalk. The soap is quite restrained so I don’t see it as an off-note, or at least it doesn’t bother me. The chalk on the palate is quite surprising, I don’t remember tasting another whisky with that texture, but there again I don’t see it as an off-note. It’s like a whisky that would be dry but on a lot of discrete points instead of a globally drying mouthfeel like a 1st fill sherry cask would give.
Caol Ila 2012 8yo
The last sample from their Series 002 comes from the shores of beautiful Islay (Helloooooo…. whoops, wrong distillery), from Caol Ila. Founded in 1846, this distillery makes a really solid whisky that never disappoints, be it old or young. It is reasonably peated, far less than the other Islay distillery owned like Caol Ila by Diageo: Lagavulin. This time, their whisky has been drawn in February 2019 from a cask filled in September 2012, to be re-racked into a Madeira wine barrique #3255887 for a two-year-long finish. It delivered 201 bottles at 56.2% abv, and you can still find them at Master of Malt for about £76.
Russet with a pink hue.
Immediately a bonfire by the sea. Ash, coal, TCP, fresh tar, soot, quite a lot of short words 😉 But there are also winey notes but more on the red wine side than on Madeira, surprisingly. It’s for me almost like a peated red wine. Hidden behind are some citrus hints as well as smoked bacon and heather. Water makes the Madeira finish more recognizable, though difficult for me to describe. Let’s settle with winey and a bit sharp but in a good way?
Surprisingly thin arrival at first, but it gets quickly creamier and mouth-coating. The smoky and peaty notes are a bit tonned down compared to the nose, it’s ashier, and kind of chalky/sweet like a Maalox medication. A few drops of water brings sweetness, dark fruits, leather and a pinch of pepper.
Long, on bonfire ashes, red wine and tar.
This Caol Ila definitely is a Caol Ila (duh), though a bit transformed by the Madeira finish. At first, neat, I wouldn’t have been able to recognize the Madeira finish (not that I’m a pro anyway), but water makes it easier to recognize, and in my opinion, better both on the nose and on the palate. I think it takes water well, and starting at 56.2% abv, you have quite some margin to reduce it to your taste. While I may not jump on a dram of that neat, with water in my opinion it gets really good, a really good dram for a cold evening by the fire. The proof that a higher strength is not always better (see what I did there?). If I hadn’t played around with water, it would probably have been an 83. But with water, it gets a…
Rating: 86 / 100
The Scalasaig Island Hopper blended malt
As if it wasn’t enough, Keith added a bonus dram with all those Series 002 samples: a miniature of Scalasaig, a blend made by one of his other adventures. This is a vatting of 10 hand selected (aren’t they all? 😉 ) casks from various Island and Coastal distilleries. The whiskies were vatted into fresh Oloroso Sherry Hogsheads for a marrying and finishing period of over 12 months. Bottled at 43% abv, Master of Malt will set you back at £49.95 for one of the 3000 bottles.
Briny and salty water, smoke from a bonfire just extinguished, an extra serving of crisp bacon, salted caramel, playdoh left out to dry by the kids, and an ashtray full of cigar ashes. The maritime side provides oysters and kelp, damp driftwood.
Smoky arrival, a bit of orange and brine, old books, a washed out campfire, lemon peel, blood orange, chocolate and coffee with milk. The mouthfeel is a bit ashy, like a mix of smoke and water filled with ashes (rinsing water of the ashtray?) but it’s not a bad mouthfeel. Dried tobacco leaves (unlit cigar), the back of a cow hide, smoked meat.
Smoked coffee beans, tobacco and jaffa cakes, for a medium length.
This is a nice smoky coastal blend, tasty, with a good nose. It’s not too thin despite the low 43% abv. I don’t know about the age of its components and it might appear a wee bit expensive at £50 maybe, compared to the £36 Compass Box’s Great king Glasgow blend. But the Glasgow blend is not as coastal and with the same abv, maybe appears a little bit thinner on the palate. In any case, this Scalasaig is a nice blended malt, and as the name says, with no grain in it. There has been skill in the blending, it’s really quaffable, so in the end that’s what matters, right?
But don’t take our word for it…
Sorren @ocdwhisky reviewed the House Malt on his blog, and you’ll find all 6 Whisky Cellar releases reviewed by Wim @dram_gazette on his Pinterest: House Malt, Balmenach, Jura, Speyside, Benrinnes and Caol Ila. If you reviewed one or more of those drams and want to be linked here, feel free to leave a comment below.
* They did not. It was written in one go, without even a dram. Just talking about that very sentence obviously.